Citizenship as Method: A post-foundational approach to the problem of rightlessness

Rees, Peter. 2022. Citizenship as Method: A post-foundational approach to the problem of rightlessness. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This thesis addresses the aporetic relationship between universal rights and citizenship by proposing a new framework for analysis: citizenship as method. The problem is that, despite being universal, rights are only granted to those belonging to particular political communities (citizenship), meaning that in a contemporary context many irregular migrants with an insecure legal and political status experience forms of rightlessness.

Citizenship as method addresses rightlessness by rethinking citizenship. It navigates between two poles: accounts of citizenship that are over-determined by its legal and institutional form and contemporary critical citizenship studies which fail to explain how radical practices of citizenship encounter and transform institutions. Citizenship as method is a deconstructive approach to citizenship that utilises contemporary post-foundational political theory to rethink the relationship between citizenship and universal rights in non-oppositional terms. Because citizenship makes rights possible and these same rights call it into question then: a) there can be no rigid opposition between universal rights and citizenship; b) citizenship is structured by a constitutive aporia; c) this aporia can be mobilised by a political practice of rights-claiming through which citizenship is displaced according to its own logic. Drawing upon a range of illustrative examples of struggles over citizenship by irregular migrants, I develop an ethico-political approach to rights-claiming. I then analyse how practices of rights-claiming by irregular migrants function in relation to modern citizenship’s two primary institutional features: law and democracy.

Citizenship as method is a conceptual framework for analysing the
constitution, contestation and re-articulation of citizenship in ways that meaningfully attenuate the problem of rightlessness. This study provides a dynamic, post-foundational, theorisation of citizenship and a set of resources for negotiating it: a new rights-claiming analytic and a novel and integrated account of the sites of transformational citizenship which can be deployed in new contexts for further analysis.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


Citizenship, migration, human rights, rightlessness, deconstruction

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



31 October 2022

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

21 Nov 2022 14:23

Last Modified:

23 Jan 2024 09:49


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